I need to paint today but in truth, I am wrestling with God a bit at the moment.
2020, for certain, has been a time of upheaval, uncertainty and loss of safety and security we have perhaps taken for granted.
Maybe you can relate: the rules I have depended on have been broken.
My prayers and pleadings for healing of people who bring nothing but goodness, love and faith to the world, seem to go unheard and the losses of two beautiful souls and the suffering of their families have stunned me so that I am finding it hard to find center some days.
As I was taking a walk on Sunday, breathing in the beauty of autumn and watching leaves fall on the path in front of me, I was reminded that it is not because of me that the world continues it's path around the sun. The world does not operate according to Gretchen. It feels much safer to think that I have a line of direct access to God that might influence what happens on earth, and that my understanding is His understanding, but it is also a completely egocentric faith- no faith at all. It feels more comfortable and predictable if life is kind of based on a merit system of sorts. I know this isn't what the bible says and I learned personally a long time ago that bad things happen to the best human beings and that prayer is not always answered. It is only my responsibility to love those around me and pray for them and then let go, trusting God is big enough to hold the world and see everything that I cannot, through space and time. My cousin, whose faith is great, said this in the midst of crisis last week as her 7 year old son's life hung in the balance: "And if not, God is still good." Those words are hard and sharp and difficult to believe with conviction when prayers from the depths of our souls go unanswered.
In the old testament, the morning after Jacob wrestled with God during the night, God walked away and changed Jacob's name to Israel, which means "struggle" or "to wrestle with". The ancient Jews believed that God invited each of us into a wonderful wrestling match. Why wonderful? Because struggle in our faith and comprehension of God's ways means we are intimately questioning and seeking God, which is not a bad thing if we are to grow in understanding.
I want the roots of my faith to loosen from the safe ground of control and narrowness of thinking that tells me my understanding of God and faith is complete. It is messy at the moment. I am wrestling with God. And even as I know that my understanding on earth will never be complete, I ask for courage enough to let go of my will and accept Gods, with full confidence and trust. Even as I struggle with the paradox within the answer that "though with man it is impossible, nothing is impossible for God."
Today, my painting is dedicated to that struggle and to celebrating the lives of all who have gone on before us this past year, as well as those left in their wake, who we walk along with through the grief. And to two angels in particular, Deacon- vibrant boy with a heart bursting with love who lived every minute of his life to the fullest, and Thao- whose radiant spirit of love and compassion was life giving to me and so many others.
" Oh our God...we have no power against this great multitude of sorrow that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You." 2 Chronicles 20:12
I wrote about butterflies in my last blog- messengers of hope. If you missed it and would like to read it, click here: messages-of-hope.htmlhttps://www.ggwatercolors.com/blog/messages-of-hope
As I wrote it, I didn't know why I continued to see butterflies everywhere, and what it could mean.
Since that time, the suffering and attack of people I know and love has multiplied significantly, in a way that makes my heart ache for their unimaginable losses, their heartbreak, despair and suffering, and fighting terminal illness.
These people I know and love continue, in the face of it all, to love and spread their light on a daily basis. To see good in the world, and put one foot in front of the other. My heart grieves and yet is astounded by their great well of faith, the ability to see beauty in the world even in the most desperate. despairing of times, and all in a world that is preoccupied with fighting and ugliness.
I have continued to paint my butterflies as respite and as a form of prayer to send out to the world and I would like to send out these colorful messengers of hope and prayer and beauty to anyone who interested.
Beginning this Friday the 25th of September, until I run out of butterflies, I will do a drawing and give away one of my butterfly paintings. I will draw out of my list of email subscribers, so just go to the box below to sign up.
With love and gratitude- Gretchen
Do you ever have things happen that you understand as a message, but have no idea what to do with that message? The past few weeks I have experienced the abundant arrival of butterflies everywhere I look. Not only in my garden, but in arbitrary sources like books, conversations, dreams. Then last week, unexpectedly, a family friend and beautiful human being whose life's vocation was the priesthood died, and the last image he posted was of a beautifully embroidered butterfly. I decided then to take heed of these numerous messages and paint butterflies, honoring this man who dedicated his life to being an example of God's love and desire for us to have an abundant life. Thank you, Father Andy, you brought beauty and laughter into this world every day you were here with us.
I got out my paintbrush and dutifully began some simple butterflies. By the way, I don't paint butterflies. This has never been a subject I wanted to pursue. Their perfect symmetry, delicate designs, proportions, all intimidate me. But the more I thought about the symbolism of the butterfly, and the strange situation we all find ourselves in, the more they began to appeal to me. The idea of the darkness of the chrysalis, the difficult labor of transformation, the rebirth, leading to the release and freedom of this delicate creature whose work sustains all of us. If nothing else, the butterfly reminds us to remain hopeful that the hardships and inner demons we struggle with during this time of isolation will lead to a better understanding of ourselves, our unique gifts and work, our relationships, and our priorities.
I disappeared into the studio for a few hours, drew and painted a few butterflies that were gaudy, heavy and overworked. I started feeling defeated by the whole situation, wondering if this butterfly thing was all in my head and thinking I was wasting time while laundry needed to be done.
After a couple of days of not painting, at the prodding of my husband who had seen my reluctance to get back into the studio, I went out and sat down, cleaned up the area, turned on my music and started just playing with my paint and water, at first halfheartedly. Not trying to recreate a specific butterfly, but using simple contour drawings of butterflies to experiment with different watercolor effects. I started to love what was happening as pigment and water did their magical dance on paper. I was able, finally, to enter that place we long for as artists, to be in the moment, losing myself in that sacred space of creating.
I have been painting butterflies daily since. Throwing off the judging voices in my head that tell me I'm having too much fun doing this and it's not "important" work.
My butterflies remind me that we all need renewal and freedom. That slowing down to appreciate play and beauty is essential . That the stasis we have endured will end as these times teach each of us personal lessons that will apply to the rest of our lives.
These butterflies are especially dedicated to those I think of and pray for who have dealt with incredible difficulties during these past months, enduring suffering, loss, and hopelessness. My desire is that these paintings will be a reminder of the hope and love inherent in all of our individual journeys, even during the worst times. Each one of us is born with a unique beauty, wholeness and strength to find freedom from those things that oppress us , to become who we were truly meant to be.
With love and gratitude, Gretchen
"The magic in you"
This painting is of a photo of an incredibly talented friend of mine, Kara Davis, who is a choreographer and dancer in San Francisco. The energy, spontaneity, and passion in the photo captures her beautifully, and I have been planning on painting it, just letting it "simmer" for quite some time now.
When I sit with an image for awhile, it is much easier for me to get to the essence of what I want to say through my painting. Sometimes I'm not exactly sure what it is that draws me to paint an image, it takes time before I fully understand, and other times I get excited about painting something, only to have my interest fade to nothing after awhile.
But this one resonated and wouldn't let me go. After Covid hit, I still wanted to paint it but wondered how it would translate during these times when everyone is struggling. The answer came to me as I listened to the news one day and thought of all the other people listening too, getting depressed, unable to get away from the constant stream of bad news. I began to think about how our best remedy for combating the ugliness of our world is to look inward to find that magic place that resides in every one of us. The little space in our soul of childlike freedom, play and passion that the world tries it's best to drown out.
Finding that place, that magic, or rediscovering it, is just a process like anything else. Just spending time being quiet and curious about what makes you happy can help you find what you truly love and once it emerges, it enables us to look outside of our circumstances and find passion, resilience and energy. Better equipping us mentally, emotionally and spiritually to deal with whatever the world throws our way.
So here is my challenge to you today. Find something that makes you feel like a kid again. Do something that stirs the playfulness and effortless energy you may have forgotten about. It's not just for you, it's for all of us- our world needs renewal, hope, passion and a little bit of your magic right now!
*** If you are up for the challenge, post a photo of something that encapsulates the magic for you on the comments below or on my facebook page. I will do a drawing of all the people who send photos for a free mini painting next month. ***
I am clearing out and rearranging my studio this week, so I have not been painting. But I did uncover this little gem that holds tremendous meaning for me, even 36 years after I painted it.
I was in 8th grade, Mr. John's art class, and we were supposed to paint a watercolor landscape. I painted the hill, sky and fields with trees, but wasn't happy with it and was ready to start something new. I took it up to his desk, where he was, as usual, working on a watercolor of his own.
He called me by his nickname for me, "Grinnin", and told me to look for what I saw in my landscape. I said I wanted a little farmhouse but messed up the shape of the building. He proceeded to paint a small rectangular bar of red and a couple of dark brown squares for windows. I'll never forget how that red roof brought the entire thing to life. Suddenly, out of watery shapes, a painting emerged. It was there all the time, it just took his guidance for me to see it. Like magic, something new out of what I had essentially given up on.
Fast forward to the past month when I realized my painting space was converging on me like I was in the center of some very creative, unfocused, bird's nest. Which is actually kind of snug and sheltered feeling to me, so I can let it go for longer than I should. Fortunately, fate intervened and after watching an episode of "Hoarders" last week, I decided it was probably time to act, before the crew and cameras showed up.
My studio has been a holding place for my indecision. Last year I moved my parents out of their home into assisted living and in doing so, absorbed a lot of their "stuff". How do you go through a house full of sentimental things and make definitive decisions? If you're like me, you do it overwhelmed and poorly, then give your brother a carful of stuff he could probably live without.
Holding on to material remnants of a life that don't serve anyone any longer simply clouds one's vision and stagnates creativity. To truly honor my parents, I am discovering, I have to let go of the material and move forward in order to carry their true gift- a lifetime of love, beauty, and experience- with me into the future. .
So I started the difficult process of cleaning this week and during a break I went for a walk, clearing my head and talking to God. And the words -I never know chapter and verse, but I usually know a sentence or two- "See, I am doing a new thing" kept coming to my mind. I went home and looked it up and the verse is "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19.
I am so thankful that God does a new thing in all of our lives, every day, throughout the world, even at the cellular level. He does a new thing so that we can have hope, healing and courage as we continue opening ourselves to the possibility of a new day. It was exactly what I needed at precisely the right time.
When I came across my old painting , I thought about how Mr. John put a little magic into my painting and my life that day, allowing me to see previously hidden possibilities and find joy and life in something I had deemed unworthy. His ability to see potential in a dorky middle school kid's painting in 1984, has been carried into the the year 2020. Who can know the potential of seeing a situation, a person, or a problem you had given up on from a new perspective? The possibilities of a tweak in thinking have the ability to change our future.
I am remembering Mr. John's lesson and Isaiah 43:19 as I let go of the "stuff" that stagnates new possibility, and renew my studio space to give new life to my creative journey. As well as a way to live each day , looking for the potential for beauty, integrity and possibility in places, spaces, and relationships we have given up on.
So, in Mr. John's words, today; "What do you see"?
We are living in a time of great paradox- The more we fight, the less effective we become. Arguing a point successfully, making a pointed comment, or even launching an insult at someone you feel truly deserves it feels self gratifying at first, even empowering. Until, it doesn't. Until the raging leads to more turmoil both internally and externally and then, seemingly, falls flat. The collateral damage is lost friends, bad feelings between family members, depression, anxiety, hopelessness.
Unfortunately, once rage and chaos are freed, they take on a life of their own. Newton's first law of intertia states that an object in motion will stay in motion, traveling in a straight line, forever, until something pushes or pulls on it.
Like the hurtful, angry words we put out into the world, inertia is virtually unstoppable until another force is applied. That force is love, and it is the only force in this world that can change the course of hatred, chaos and hurt. Is that naive? Simplistic? Ineffective? Weak? The world says so.
Jesus told us that his new command was that we love one another as he loves us. With grace, with forgiveness, with mercy. Taking on other's hurts as our own. For as long as it takes. And the bigger the hurt, the longer the healing will take.
The Hebrew word Chasidut is a rabbinic term that means to walk intimately with God. Our devotion to God is demonstrated and authenticated by our love for others. Chasidut is the way we love and serve those around us..
Similar to a tiny seed planted in each of us, as we tend to love, it grows into a mighty oak that is impermeable to the storms that rage around us. We are living through chaotic times. But we were born for these times. Let's commit to walking with our brothers and sisters every day, intimately and with love , the only true force in nature that can fundamentally and powerfully change our world.
You are stronger than you know. You have more power than you realize. Quiet power within that comes from God your father.
You don't comprehend this power because the world you live in magnifies all of your deepest fears. The vision of who you are truly meant to be is buried under humiliation, unworthiness, and shame, until you can't find your soul anymore. You don't recognize your life or who you've become.
You, child of God, were never meant to bear these things. They have taken over and close you down as you reach for the quickest way to numb out.
It becomes your survival, it becomes more essential that anything else in your life because it is the only friend you have that doesn't judge you and gives your screaming head the temporary rest it craves.
That is what the darkness tells you. The darkness makes it seem as if it is the only truth that exists, and it is a lie. A lie that will be exposed when you lay it all down at the feet of the ancient and living I AM who redeems all things and can liberate you from the hell you live in, Jesus Christ. Lay it down. Without holding onto anything, not even a scrap of the old. Ask for the forgiveness that will free your mind from the hell addiction has created in your life. He will grant it. It is not a simple or easy act, but it is no more complicated than that for those who genuinely seek it with their whole heart.
Wait on His light and freedom, something you have not felt since you were a child, running and playing in the sun, full of life. Wait and pray to feel your God-given power and see the first light illuminate your path from the shadows. Believe and know it will lead you to change the world for the better as you become fully released, empowered and loved. The path is yours to take, but you are the only one who can uncover it.
Lord, I pray for anyone reading this, struggling with addiction, that you will bless them abundantly, let them feel your love and give them strength and hope for a new life. Uncover the life you have been waiting on them to find. Amen.
“The Greeks believed that time had secret structure. There was the moment of Epiphany when time suddenly opened and something was revealed in luminous clarity. There was the moment of krisis when time got entangled and directions became confused and contradictory. There was also the moment of kairos; this was the propitious moment. Time opened up in kindness and promise. All the energies cohered to offer a fecund occasion of initiative, creativity, and promise. Part of the art of living wisely is to learn to recognize and attend to such profound openings in one’s life.”
― John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Invocations and Blessings
I have been taking a little break from social media, which is tricky, because I depend on social media to promote and sell my work. But the last few weeks, instead of helping my art, social media was becoming a deterrent to my creativity.
So I gave myself the break I needed, started a morning yoga and prayer practice to quiet my body and soul.
Doing yoga every day at 49 is an exercise in humbleness, acceptance and patience. As I try new positions that would have been easy a few years ago, I find that although my mind can "feel" what it is supposed to do, my body no longer remembers.
Part of the learning has been allowing my body the space and time it needs to
unite with what my brain knows it is able to do.
The paradox is that as I breathe through my practice, and let go of the frustration with my body's limits, my body gives space and calm back. Not being pushed and cornered, itis able to relax it's limits, let go, and create more room for movement and strength. It is the same with prayer. As I come into God's presence, reading his word and listening, my jumbled thoughts and anxieties begin to melt, as he gives me a peace in the midst of chaos, and space and light to find my path once more.
As we now live in a world where we relentlessly crowd, frustrate and corner each other every day online, Which never has the intended effect because it does not allow for the space we need to listen, learn and release our defenses. Our automatice responses to memes, and others inflammatory words causes at it's core- fear-, which in turn leads to tightening up, closing down and choosing a "side" to align with and feel safe again.
During the last weeks, our conversations have become excluding and anger driven because we feel as if we are under attack. Which only serves to stop us from growing, stretching, and becoming who we know we can be individually and collectively.
My hope and prayer for all of us is that we can become fearless in our love for one another, blessing the space between us and inside of us and remembering God's love for all. The One who gave us a rainbow of colors in the sky and in our skin, also gave us the ability to choose the light or darkness within each of us.
Here's to us all displaying our light, blessing one another and filling up the world with it. It has never been more important.
Love and gratitude- Gretchen
"Still I'll rise"
This painting was born of so many scattered, random, pent up emotions after the quarantine of 2020. My parents are elderly, and like everyone, I have friends and family who are vulnerable to the virus.
I believe in times like these we are meant to draw closer to God, to find new understanding in the world around us. For me, this has meant a lot of prayer, but not only the prayer where I ask for protection for my family and friends and guidance, but the kind where I try to also listen. This is harder than it would seem.
I have found walking helps with this kind of prayer, and one day as I was out taking photos of sycamore trees for reference photos, I came across an old convent with a labyrinth on the grounds. It was a quiet spring morning and no one was there, so I decided to see what it was about. The directions said to enter after taking a deep breath, ring the chimes, and follow the path, as you are walking, you can pray. When you get to the center there is a tree where you can kneel and pray. On the way out, you simply quiet yourself and try to hear what God is saying to you. It is a wonderful, cleansing, beautiful way to become quiet enough to pray and be present.
What does this all have to do with my portrait painting? I had been unable to focus my haywire energy and anxieties enough to paint. After that morning at the labrynth, I came home and painted her. And I had no idea what I was doing or if it would turn out to be a study for my trash pile, but soon realized I was painting my response to the strange chaos of quarantine- all the focus was there and it was coming through the brush.
And what came through was clear rebellion and fearlessness. The underlying knowledge that fear, worry, distraction and lack of belief have no place in my life as a child of God. That I can be- when I put my trust in him- free of the constant background noise of the media, free of the constant stress and worries about loved ones. I can regain my focus and have confidence in God, when I give it to him. This is in his control, not mine.
It reminded me of the poem "Still I rise" by Maya Angelou. Of the emotion underneath her words- the rebelliousness, the confidence and faith to move forward, and the inability to tamp down the human spirit in any and all circumstances.
Those attributes are what got many generations before us through worse times than this, and it will get us through as well.
It's a long, incredible poem- you should read it, but today, here, I will put down only a few lines
"Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wonderously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
"She wasn't a sunny day type woman.
Often she would brave a thunderstorm to find me
and sit next to me and hold my hand in the rain.
She wasn't just a flame.
She was a bonfire to the soul.
This painting is the second in my "St. Louis women" series, something near and dear to my heart.
This portrait is of my beautiful friend and neighbor, Beth Vacarro, who happens to also be the mother of my son's lifelong best friend.
Beth is one of those rare gifts to the world, a mental health therapist. She daily goes into her office and willingly takes on the problems, complexities, and hardships of others, to help them find their path in this world, or to make it easier, or to help them see themselves in a new way so that they can thrive. She lends an ear and her heart to let people know they are not alone in this world. Always a blessing and help to others, but in this strange time especially, I think of the vital ways she helps our corner of the world navigate their way through anxiety, depression, financial hardships, sickness and loss.
Her life's work is bringing beauty to other's lives by entering their darkness and confusion to work out a map into light and life. The world is so fortunate to have her.
I would be remiss to not mention the impact she has had on my life personally. I know first hand what kind of courageous kindness and generosity of heart Beth has. She has come to my side at the darkest times, and like a lamp someone brought into the room, stayed present with me in my tears and pain, until her warmth overtook the coldness and fear.
And although one would think this sort of individual would be a serious or solemn kind of person, Beth is full of light and life, witty, and a friend to all who know and love her.
Thank you, Beth, for being a friend to me and a light in our community.